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Once the brightest students are interested in bioprocessing, it is vital that they are prepared and inducted into industry.
Biopharmaceuticals is one of the fastest growing sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, currently accounting for 10% of sales and over 30% of medicines in development. Bioprocessing (taking living cells and turning them into manufacturing units to produce biopharmaceuticals) has the potential to deliver new treatments to patients with serious conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease. The credit for the success of the UK sector is largely because of the founding fathers of the industry who have brought UK biopharmaceutical development and bioprocessing to its current leading position in Europe, and second only to the US globally.
The bioprocessing sector demands a unique and multidisciplinary skill set, for example, chemical and biochemical engineering, bioscience and medicine. Today's bioprocess leaders have successfully combined knowledge of the underlying science with the business acumen to translate this through to the marketplace. However, the industry is aware that many of the current bioprocess leaders will soon be reaching the end of their careers and all eyes are turned to the next generation. At this critical juncture, it is particularly important that the new generation are equipped to succeed today's leaders. One of the most important aspects is to develop skilled and resourceful bioprocess leaders — a task that is already underway.
While some leadership aspects are innate, there is general agreement in the bioprocessing sector that many leadership capabilities can be enhanced and developed. Moreover, a recent survey of senior bioprocessing expert opinion indicates that many essential bioprocessing skills are lacking in new graduates. If the problem isn't addressed now, in today's students, the UK may not be able to hold on to its European leader title.
Through a recent workshop and survey of current leaders,we have a clear picture of the skill areas that need improvement. In particular, fermentation, cell culture and statistical skills need developing, along with business skills such as team working, project management and practical problem solving. Future bioprocess experts will need to engage a 'total value chain' perspective of biopharmaceutical commercialization.
However, today's bioprocess leaders have an important role to play to ensure that UK bioprocessing attracts, retains and develops their replacements, not only identifying a future talent pool of leaders, but also encouraging their development.
The first step for the sector is to attract the brightest talent into bioprocessing. Communicating the innovative edge and development aspects of biopharmaceutical bioprocessing to school and university students is important to encourage more of the most talented into bioprocessing, as well as enhance public understanding of bioprocessing and its human health benefits. To achieve this, a strategy is being developed to engage school leavers, working with existing schemes such as HeadStart and SETNET. In addition, support will be provided in early collaboration between schools and universities to help create an awareness of the bioprocessing industry.
Once the brightest students are interested in bioprocessing, it is vital that they are prepared and inducted into industry. Encouraging multidisciplinary degrees that bridge chemical and biochemical engineering, and bioscience is an important step. Providing more opportunities for apprenticeships, work experience and placements will give future leaders a solid understanding of how industry operates. Active career management, through personal development plans, will be key once graduates are in the workplace.
It's safe to say that bioprocess leaders are not always born. Although it is the skills of the next generation of bioprocess leaders that need developing, it is up to the current leaders in industry and academia, as well as the Government, to pull together and implement the strategy. Biopharmaceuticals have the potential to transform the treatment of many serious diseases for which there is currently no safe or effective therapy. With momentum from today's leaders, the next generation of bioprocess leaders will be able to deliver countless life saving medicines.
Tony Bradshaw is director of bioProcessUK, UK.